OxNet NE/Ordered Universe Virtual Easter School 2020: On the Sphere


Welcome to the OxNet North East/Ordered Universe Easter School in Virtual Form. This mode of delivery will allow you read the materials provided, listen to the lectures and talks, and to reflect on the information and interpretations, and then to produce a report. The school is organised around the third treatise by Robert Grosseteste, On the Sphere, written between 1215 and 1220, which explores astronomy and geography. The treatise reflects on why astronomy is important, how the world we live in fits into the universe, astronomical phenomena such as eclipses, and the habitability of the earth. The school will be led by Giles Gasper, Walker Christian, Ana Dias, and Sigbjørn Sønnesyn (Durham University), Claire Ungley (Southmoor Academy) and students from Durham University.

Course: the Easter School runs across six days and will focus on the following areas:

  1. A Guide to the Medieval Universe: An introduction to medieval cosmology, from the Oxford Cabinet (an online exhibition), and guidebook Medieval Science and the Body, compiled by Sarah Griffin; general reading list.
  2. On the Sphere: a translation of the treatise in modern English and Simulated Interactive Model of the Medieval Universe
  3. Earth to Cosmos: Grosseteteste’s Vision: The treatise – On the Sphere – in English translation, with short talks to guide you through particular aspects of the treatise:
    • Historical Context – Giles Gasper
    • What is On the Sphere about? – Sigbjørn Sønnesyn
    • Trepidation – Tom McLeish
    • The Moon Illusion – Rebekah White
    • Learning about Astronomy through Illustrations – Laura Cleaver
  4. Expanding Horizons:
    • Two longer lectures on modern understanding of the universe by Tom McLeish and Richard Bower, with comparison to Grosseteste’s understanding, and the treatise On Light.
    • Two talks on broader aspects of medieval culture, related to different ways of understanding natural phenomena, production of manuscripts: Colour and Alchemy.
  5. Visualisations: three different ways to think about the medieval cosmos, and On the Sphere through film, and modern art – Ordered Universe partners The Projection Studio: Ross Ashton, Karen Monid, and Alexandra Carr.

All of these areas are to be found in different pages of this website – so return to the main menu under Schools and the Easter School and pages will appear on the right. They will be password-protected, and we’ll let open up the material gradually over the week, to let you focus and progress through the course. Alternatively you will find links to the pages in the Timetable below, on the appropriate section.


Assessment: The Guidebook in Section 1, Medieval Science and the Body, contains 5 questions at the back. The first part of your assessment will be to write 200 words in response to each of the questions; 1000 in total.
The second part of the assessment is a more reflective report of 1000 words on one of the following questions:

  • how does the medieval view of the world as found in On the Sphere  differ from the modern view?
  • how does the medieval universe work?
  • what would Robert Grosseteste make of the modern understanding of the universe?

The assessments will be submitted at the end of the course (timetable below), and marked by the course tutors.

We will have two prizes for the best final assessments, each of £30 worth of books related to the course you wish to pursue at university, and two commendations. All four of these assessments will be published on the Ordered Universe and OxNet websites.

Timetable: activities are as follows:

Tuesday: welcome session – this will be live and on Zoom, and Access to the material in Section 1) and Section 5)
Wednesday: Access to the material in Section 2) and Section 3) and a live Zoom question forum
Thursday: Access to the material in Section 4), and a live Zoom q&a with Durham students about life at university
Friday: Live session on Zoom for advice on the report
Monday: End of School, live Zoom session; report and short commentaries to be emailed to Claire Ungley, who will send to tutors who will comment and return, via Claire.

We hope that you enjoy the course – it is designed to make you think widely and deeply; as well as the resources available here use the seminar course handbook, and the are many other resources the general Ordered Universe website: podcasts, short pieces for magazines, our searchable blog, and so on.  If there any questions please let us know!


Oxnet: is an Access initiative run collaboratively between participating colleges at the University of Oxford, led by Pembroke College, other HE institutions across the United Kingdom, and secondary schools acting as ‘hubs’ in London, the North West and the North East of England. It is unapologetically academic in its focus and has had significant impact in the local communities in which it has worked since 2008.

We are enormously grateful for the support of all of the contributors to the school: Claire Ungley (Southmoor Academy – OxNet hub co-ordinator); Dr Peter Claus (Pembroke College, University of Oxford – OxNet Founder); Felix Slade (Pembroke College, University of Oxford – OxNet co-ordinator); Professor Tom McLeish (University of York – Physics & Medieval Studies); Professor Giles Gasper (Durham University – Medieval History); Dr Sarah Griffin (Winchester College – Medieval Art History); Dr Laura Cleaver (SAS London – Medieval Art History); Christian Walker (Durham University – Medieval History); Dr Sigbjørn Sønnesyn (Durham University – Medieval History); Dr Ana Dias (Durham University – Medieval History), and Dr Rebekah White (University of Oxford – Experimental Psychology). Also for institutional support from Durham University, OxNet, Pembroke College, University of Oxford, Southmoor Academy, and all of the contributing schools.


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